By John Antonik
West Virginia is running out of opportunities to get a quality nonconference win, but the Mountaineers have another chance to get one today when they play host to Purdue at 1 p.m.
West Virginia has come up short in bids to knock off Virginia Tech (87-82), Wisconsin (70-63) and Missouri (80-71) on the road, and most recently, against Gonzaga (80-76) at the Coliseum on Dec. 10.
“We’ve got to get back to where, one, we defend our home court,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “It’s been such a great place to play with many, many upsets and big-game wins here and we need to get back to winning big games here. And we also need to beat somebody pretty good out of league and kind of get a roll going into the conference season.”
The Boilermakers (9-3) are young, just like West Virginia, with only two of their 11 scholarship players having been on the roster for more than one season. Veteran Purdue coach Matt Painter is still trying to find the right blend of players, using his sixth different starting lineup in as many games against Maryland-Eastern Shore last Tuesday night. A total of eight different players have started games this year for Purdue.
In Purdue’s most recent win over Maryland-Eastern Shore, Painter started three guards — 6-foot-4 Terone Johnson, 6-1 Bryson Scott and 6-foot Ronnie Johnson — along with 6-5, 222-pound forward Basil Smotherman and 6-10, 250-pound freshman forward Jay Simpson.
All three guards are averaging double figures, while 7-foot center A.J. Hammons and 6-6 freshman guard Kendall Stephens are giving Purdue a combined 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game coming off the bench.
In addition, sophomore guard Rapheal Davis had 16 points and five rebounds in last year’s 79-52 win over the Mountaineers in West Lafayette.
“I like their team,” said Huggins. “I think Matt’s done a great job of getting his guys. I think they’re guarding; they share the ball and I think they’re playing really well together. Stephens is a terrific shooter and when you’ve got a 7-footer and a 6-10 inside who can both score, and they (have guards who) can make them on the perimeter, it makes you have to pick your poison. Are you going to try and help on the inside or are you going to go and get the shooters?”
Purdue has experienced considerable success against West Virginia through the years, winning six out of seven games in a series that dates back to 1961. Twice, West Virginia lost by double-digit margins at Mackey Arena while knocking off Purdue 68-64 in Morgantown on Jan. 16, 2011, at the Coliseum.
All three of Purdue’s losses this year, to Oklahoma State, Washington State and Butler, have been away from Mackey, and today’s game at the Coliseum will be the first true road game for the Boilermakers this season. Purdue has only played 15 true nonconference road games during Painter’s 10 seasons at West Lafayette, his teams going 5-10 in those games.
West Virginia, meanwhile, is coming off a come-from-behind 74-64 victory over Marshall in the Capital Classic in Charleston Dec. 14. In that game, the Mountaineers got 19 points, six rebounds and four assists from junior guard Juwan Staten and 12 points and 11 rebounds off the bench from freshman forward Brandon Watkins — both season highs for him.
The Mountaineers trailed for most of the game until using a 12-2 run over the remaining 3:41 to pull out the double-digit victory over the Herd.
Sophomore guard Eron Harris continues to lead West Virginia in scoring with an average of 18.5 points per game. Harris is shooting 48.5 percent from 3 with a team-best 32 triples. Staten shows averages of 16.6 points and 6.5 assists per game, while sophomore guard Terry Henderson is also averaging double figures at 10.5 points per game.
West Virginia will play one final non-conference game against William & Mary in Charleston on Dec. 29 before starting Big 12 play on the road at TCU on Jan. 4.
Today’s game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.